Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

CD5 Forum Features Spillover Heat from City Council Scandal

City Council District 5 candidates Sam Yebri and Katy Young Yaroslavsky at last night’s online forum.


At least some of the heat from the current City Council scandal spilled over last night to a forum featuring the two City Council District 5 candidates, Katy Young Yaroslavsky and Sam Yebri.  The Zoom-based session, which was something like the 40th such event featuring the candidates since they began their campaigns nearly two years ago, was sponsored by several westside Neighborhood Councils (Bel Air-Beverly Crest, P.I.C.O., Westside, and Westwood) and moderated by Buzz Co-Publisher Patty Lombard.

During the discussion, each candidate was allowed a two-minute opening statement, and then two minutes to answer each of the seven questions prepared in advance by Lombard. There were also a couple of questions submitted by stakeholders, a chance for each candidate to ask a question of the other, and then closing statements.  And throughout it all, the major political story of the week definitely hovered over the proceedings, and often seeped in.


Opening Statements


In her opening statement, Yaroslavsky described herself as an environmental attorney and policymaker (with seven years’ experience as a senior policy advisor for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl), and a mom of three kids who wants the city of Los Angeles to be a safe place to raise her family.  She also painted herself, especially via her work on Measure W (a major clean water infrastructure bill), as a coalition builder who knows how to bring together people and resources from many sources to create “nuanced solutions” to the kinds of complex problems now facing the city…as well as someone who will pay close intention to the kinds of more immediate constituent services that are also important to CD 5 residents.

Meanwhile, Yebri described the city he loves as an entity in crisis, growing worse every day, and said that although Yaroslavsky spent seven years working for LA County, the problems facing the area are still with us.  He said to continue along the same path would be “the definition of insanity.”  Finally, he noted that when the City Council scandal story broke, he was one of the first people to call for all three councilmembers involved to resign immediately.  He said that, if elected, he would continue to act with similar “urgency and common sense.”




How does the current city council scandal affect the situation you would be coming into if elected…and how does it affect your thoughts on the City Council redistricting process?

Yebri said the comments in the leaked recording, made during a meeting of three Hispanic city councilmembers and a local labor leader during last year’s city council redistricting process, “disgusted me.” The speakers, he said, are “entrenched, arrogant politicians”…who have all endorsed Yaroslavsky.  Yebri then called on Yaroslavsky to reject those endorsements, mentioned his own proposed six-point ethics policy for the city, and said he supports a fully independent city council redistricting process.

Responding to Yebri’s barb, Yaroslavsky replied that when the scandal story first broke this weekend, she immediately called for all the Council Members involved to step down from their leadership positions, and then earlier yesterday also called for them to resign…and removed their endorsements from her website.  She said her major concern right now is not scoring political points with who said what first in response to the scandal, but moving forward and finding ways to help the city heal.  And she, too, said this week’s developments definitely underscore how much we “absolutely need” an independent city council redistricting commission.

At this point, Yebri requested one of the three “rebuttal” opportunities each candidate was offered during the discussion, and used it to contend that the relative speed of the two candidates’ responses to the news highlights the differences between them.  He said he can react faster because he’s not beholden to the opinions of any specific parties or politician (implying that Yaroslavsky is)…and pointed out that Yaroslavsky’s name was even mentioned in the tainted recording.

Allowed to respond to this, Yaroslavsky clarified that her name was mentioned only in passing in the recording, and only when one of the speakers, reviewing several primary election campaigns then underway, said she seemed to be doing well in that race. Yaroslavsky said her name did not come up again, and she admonished Yebri for trying to connect her to the scandal.


With the Purple Line Extension getting closer to opening in CD 5, how can the city inspire riders to use the new subway line and assure their safety?

Yaroslavsky said the city could build the most perfect subway in the world, but if people won’t ride it, it won’t be successful.  She said we need to begin immediately to address first mile/last mile transportation issues (how people get to and from the subway), as well as subsidize fares for low-income riders, and address safety concerns.  She said one way to improve safety might to add more commercial uses, like restaurants in the subway stations (which they have in Japan), because having more people around generally makes people feel safer.  She said she’d be open to other kinds of safety solutions that have worked elsewhere, too, such as women-only cars.

Yebri said the key is “safety, safety, safety,” and that if you reduce law enforcement on public transportation, people won’t feel safe using it.  He said we also need to invest in better sanitation, and make it easier for people to get to stations by providing micro-transit options, and building more affordable housing near transit lines.  He also emphasized his long-time interest in public safety, including his work with a gun-removal task force, and his frequent social media posts about crime (which he said Yaroslavsky does not discuss in her social media posts).


Do you support the installation of more protected bike lanes and, if so, where?

Yebri said bike infrastructure is an important long-term planning issue (citing the example of the 80,000 cars that pass through Westwood Village every day), but that it’s critical to plan projects such as bike lanes in partnership with Metro and local residents…which he will do.  Yebri also noted that he’s been hearing a lot of complaints about a new bike lane that just opened on San Vicente Blvd., because residents say they weren’t consulted before it was installed.  He also said he would like to revisit the Uplift Melrose project that was dropped last year after resident complaints, but with better community outreach and input, because we desperately do need to upgrade our transportation infrastructure.

Yaroslavsky said Los Angeles should be one of the great bike cities in the world, because it’s mostly flat, the weather’s great, and most things are within a reasonable distance of each other. She said she supports a broadly connected bike infrastructure, and that we should start with first/last mile areas near transit, and then connect the system outward to our various neighborhoods.  She said both Sixth Street and San Vicente Blvd. would be good places to plan bike lanes – in partnership with those communities – and that improving bikeability is important for both the climate and public safety.  Yaroslavsky also noted that her husband and kids all love to ride bikes, but right now they have to load their bikes into a car to drive to safe bike paths, and “that’s crazy; that’s nuts.”  So when it comes to improving bike infrastructure, Yaroslavsky said, “I’m here for this.”


Regarding homelessness, you have both said you’d support enforcement of Ordinance 41.18 to remove homeless encampments from sensitive areas, as long as it’s paired with housing support. But where would you put more temporary shelters for the people who are moved?

Yaroslavsky said we need an “all of the above” approach to homelessness, and while shelters are OK for some people, many others want places with a door they can lock.  So she said she would like to buy some of the city’s many small motels and other buildings that are underused, and convert them to housing.  She said there are also great opportunities for the city to partner with the federal government for funding for new housing for veterans.  And she said while we need housing options that provide the greater services that some people need, we also need simple financial subsidies for people who don’t need additional services, so they can access regular market-rate housing.  And finally, said she supports the use of the old St. Vincent’s hospital as shelter and housing for those who need mental health services, as well as many other options, such as tiny homes.

Yebri said he has seen too many housing projects rejected by the city because sites weren’t exactly right – such as a 30-acre parcel near LAX that could be used for safe camping – and we need to fight the bureaucracy that’s keeping these sites from being used.  He said that contrary to the way this question was phrased, above, he and Yaroslavsky actually have “dramatically different” views on how Ordinance 41.18 should be used.  Yebri said  Yaroslavsky has said different things about this issue to different people, but he would definitely enforce 41.18 near schools and other sensitive places, and would “act immediately” to move people in those areas to shelters and provide services.

At this point, Yaroslavsky used one of her rebuttal opportunities to say Yebri was quoting her out of context again, and that she has always been consistent in saying that Ordinance 41.18 can only be used with the provision of housing and services, or you’re just moving people from one street corner to another.  She also said we simply don’t have enough shelter beds right now to offer housing and services to all the people that need them, even if we did try to more widely enforce ordinance 41.18.  She said the “Boise” decision, which mandates that a city must have housing for someone before it can remove that person from the street, is also part of this equation…but when we do have enough housing and services available, she will definitely support wider enforcement of 41.18.

Yebri responded that the city is only required to make a “credible offer of shelter” to use Ordinance 41.18, and that we do have empty shelter beds every night, so we should use the law to get people off the streets immediately because otherwise they will die there, often of overdoses, which is inhumane.


The big challenge for building affordable housing right now is funding, which often requires developers to create a “layer cake” of financing from various sources.  How will you reduce the number of funding sources needed and help expedite funding for affordable housing?  Also, do you support the construction of public housing projects?

Yebri referenced an article he wrote for the Urbanize.LA blog, and said building affordable housing right now just isn’t affordable for builders, and the time it takes to permit an affordable housing project just makes it worse by increasing holding costs.  So we have to find a way to fast-track affordable housing projects, Yebri said, and to consolidate the kinds of loans builders need…which the city can do.  Finally, Yebri said that public housing should be a last resort, and that things like Measure HHH (which failed to create the amount of housing it was supposed to fund), shows what happens when government gets involved.  Instead, Yebri said, housing construction should be driven by the private sector, and supported by government.

Yaroslavsky noted that she began her career as a land use attorney, and definitely knows that our permitting process is broken – everyone seems to be working at cross purposes, no one is in charge of the system, and there’s no plan to make it more workable.  For example, she said, available funding is often split among various developments, instead of being concentrated in one project, which forces all of the developers to find multiple funding sources.  The system, she said, needs a more unified approach, and there is actually lots of housing funding available from the federal government, which we’re not tapping into.  The good news, though, Yaroslavsky said, is that while developers won’t touch affordable housing projects right now, alternatives such as Project Home Key and master leasing programs do seem to be working, so we should focus on those.  Also, Yaroslavsky said, she would support public-private partnerships, in which non-profit organizations are used to manage public housing projects.


Would you re-tool the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or otherwise revist our local governance for homeless issues?

Yaroslavsky said this question really gets to the heart of the issue, because under the current system there is no one entity in charge of homelessness, and different entities have different responsibilities – such the County managing mental health and addiction programs, while the city is in charge of housing.  Yaroslavsky said we need to bring all of our homeless services and organizations together under one roof, develop a coordinated work plan, and fund projects.  She noted that her work on Measure W involved exactly this kind of multi-agency problem with issues relating to our water supply, and she was able to create a solution that worked.

Yebri said the City of Los Angeles currently provides tools for dealing with housing, sanitation and policing, but LA County is failing us when it comes to addiction and mental health services.  He said restructuring things is not a matter of reform, because LAHSA is a failure and the City of Los Angeles needs to create its own health department, like Long Beach and Pasadena have.  Instead, he said, we need “transformational change,” not just reform, and we also need to convert more health care facilities to mental health facilities (as is currently being done at the old Olympia Medical Center).  Finally, he also said it’s mostly a management issue, and we need people with private sector experience to take the lead in improving things.


You’ve both said you support historic neighborhoods and historic preservation.  How would you bring more resources to support and expand our Historic Preservation Overlay Zones?

Yebri said historic neighborhoods are close to his heart and important both for our city’s history and because they provide diverse, affordable housing, so they must be protected.   To do this, he said, we need to reform the Ellis Act, so people aren’t evicted from affordable housing to construct new market-rate housing (as is happening now with at the Fairfax Garden apartments, where 40 naturally-occurring affordable units are being replaced with a new 209-unit development with only 28 officially affordable units), and that we need real consequences for developers who do such things.  He said there should also be consequences for other developer misdeeds – such as “demolition by neglect,” which seems to be happening now at the old Fairfax Theater.  The solution, Yebri said, is to update our out-of-date community plans and make sure we include requirements for preservation and adaptive re-use of existing buildings.

Yaroslavsky said that Los Angeles’ historic architecture and legacy businesses are what make the city “unique and iconic.”  She said she lives in an older duplex apartment that has no dishwasher but does have lots of charm.  She said she’s a very strong supporter of HPOZs, but it’s not a “zero-sum game.”  We can preserve historic neighborhoods, she said,  by concentrating new housing near transit, by updating our community plans, and by tapping into every resource we can to support preservation, including state and federal programs.


Questions from the Public


What is your position on re-zoning part of Benedict Canyon for the proposed Bulgari Hotel…and do you know why a vote on the project was postponed by the City Council?

Yebri said this is actually one issue on which he and Yaroslavsky are on the same side.  He said a public records request should be done to find out what’s been said among city officials about the project, but he believes it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone and would set a bad precedent and create massive fire risks in the area.  He said that if the project is eventually approved, there should be a full investigation to find out who’s calling the shots on it, because the community is united in its opposition, and no one supports the project except those who are in the pockets of the developers.

Yaroslavsky, too, called the proposal a “truly terrible project we should just put to bed.” She said the area should either be developed with single family homes or, better yet, purchased by the city to keep as open space (which she has explored state funding to do).  This is “absolutely a no-brainer,” Yaroslavsky said, and it’s shocking that the Council chose to delay a vote on the project, even though current city councilmember Paul Koretz said he’s against it.  Yaroslavsky said the whole thing “reeks of back-room dealing.”


What is your position on the Sepulveda Corridor Transit Project, and would you support tunneling in the area if it’s shown to be safe?

Yaroslavsky said the CEQA environmental review process for the project, which is currently underway, is designed to identify the specific environmental impacts of the various options, and will report on whether tunneling or another option would be best.  So we definitely need to see the report before making making any decisions.  That said, though, Yaroslavsky also said we definitely DO need a UCLA station that connects to the rest of our transit system…but before we can work out the specifics, we need more information about the potential timeline, cost, and environmental effects.

Yebri said that if the CEQA review does show that tunneling is safe, that would be the preferred approach because it would be the fastest option.  But, as Yaroslavsky said, Yebri agreed that we need to see what the environmental study shows before making any decisions.  Yebri said, too, that he agrees there MUST be a stop at UCLA…and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get people out of their cars.


Candidate Questions


Yebri to Yaroslavsky:  Going back to the Nury Martinez issue, when the recording became public and the public realized how disgusting the remarks were…can you say why you were the last person to call for the people involved to resign, and to renouce their endorsements?

Yaroslavsky reiterated that she called on Sunday for the involved people to step down from their leadership positions, and on Monday also said they should resign.  She said Yebri’s harping on this issue is just “recentering” the mess to “score cheap political points” instead of focusing on the bigger and more important implications for the city itself, which needs “bridges and not divisive, negative political campaigns” right now.


Yaroslavsky to Yebri:  You’ve spent the last 24 hours conducting a smear campaign against me about renouncing endorsements from people involved in the current scandal…but why haven’t you renounced the $1 million in donations you’ve received from the corporate landlord lobby?

Yebri accused Yaroslavsky of pursuing those same corporate donations and endorsements, as well as endorsements from the California Apartment Owners’ Association, Chambers of Commerce, and police and firefighters’ unions, which she didn’t receive and he did.  Yebri also again accused Yaroslavsky of changing her messages depending on which group she’s addressing, and denied that his campaign has directly attacked Yaroslavsky, saying the specific ads she referred to came from somewhere else.  Finally, Yebri also accused Yaroslavsky of conducting a negative ad campaign against him, in which his skin was artificially darkened, and asked for an apology.

Yaroslavsky rebutted that Yebri’s skin was not darkened in the ad in question, and called his allegations “Trumpian,” “gaslighting” and “really offensive.”


Closing Statements


Yebri closed by saying, “We need a new day; we need change.”  But he said we do have a chance to change course now, and that he’s willing to stand up to Council President Martinez and not be beholden to other interests when making decisions. “I will move with passion, urgency and common sense,” he said, while Yaroslavsky will simply bring “more of the same.”

Yaroslavsky said she’s proud of her track record getting things done in the public sector, and that the complicated challenges we’re facing today require nuanced solutions, created by adults.  She said she knows how to do this kind of work, will be ready on day one, is honored to have endorsements from a broad coalition of people and organizations, and is committed to using the tools of government to get things done.

Finally, in her own closing remarks, moderator Lombard noted that the forum organizers do have more questions submitted by stakeholders, which they will submit to the candidates, and their answers will be published in a follow-up story in the Buzz later this week.

In the meantime, if you missed the forum or would like to watch it again, you can find a recording here.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }